Perpetual Groove's Return Exceeds All Expectations
Written by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
Since the announcement of Perpetual Groove's indefinite hiatus in January of 2013, those of us who grew to love this band have been uncertain as to whether or not we would ever see them share the stage again. The Georgia-born four-piece originated in 1997 at the Savannah College of Art & Design, and quickly became one of the hottest rising acts in the Southeast. After original band members Joe Stickney and Brett Hinton left the band in 2001, current members Matt McDonald (keyboards) and Albert Suttle (drums) met founding members Brock Butler (guitar/vocals) and Adam Perry (bass) at an open-mic night in Savannah, GA and ultimately joined forces. The band soon relocated to the musically dominated town of Athens, GA, known for producing the likes of Widespread Panic and REM. Crowds continuously grew, bigger venues and promoters were calling, and PGroove undoubtedly became a household name in the world of improv/jam rock.
Luckily, I began seeing the band's name surface on major online music media outlets such as JamBase after their first US-wide tour in 2003. After first learning of JamCruise and seeing PGroove on the roster, I thankfully made the decision to pick up their first studio album, Sweet Oblivious Antidote. This album has remained in my regular rotation for the past twelve years and has often been referred to as the soundtrack to my college experience. Many of my most memorable nights at Auburn University were courtesy of PGroove, assuring me that this band was on the path to great success. So many of us have remained hopeful that we had not seen the last of PGroove in 2013, and this past Friday in Athens, GA represented a celebration of epic proportions.
After tickets to Friday night's reunion show sold out almost instantly, it was soon announced that this reunion would be a two-night run. While this was exciting to hear, the additional show was announced for Thursday night, creating a little uncertainty as to what songs one might miss if unable to be in Athens for the Thursday show. As soon as I woke up Friday morning, I checked the band's Facebook page for a setlist, hoping that many of my favorites were still in play for the "original" reunion show. While we missed out on songs like "Sun Dog," "Andromeda," "Stealy Man," and the always beautiful cover of The Talking Heads' "Naive Melody," nearly everything I was hoping for was almost looking like a guarantee. Friday's show was also scheduled for a live broadcast via Yahoo! Watch, making for an even brighter spotlight on the Georgia Theatre.
One had to imagine that the band would come out red hot, but there was absolutely no doubt when they took the stage around 10:00 PM. The stage of the Georgia Theatre is where the band's last show took place in 2013, making the decision to open with "It Starts Where It Ends" feel almost too perfect. As Butler guided us through this uplifting story about never letting the ups and downs of every day life get the best of you, the 1000+ plus fans in attendance were assured this night would be special. A lengthy intro then led us into "Three Weeks," easily one of the bands most well-known and popular songs. I can honestly say I have never heard a sold out venue singing along with the band as loudly as we were Friday night, only two songs in, and it would only get louder.
The set progressed with a lengthy version of "Paper Dolls," before we saw Butler put down the electric and pick up the acoustic guitar. The all too familiar opening notes of "Walking In Place" only added to an energy level that would have been hard to match anywhere else. We were just about 30 minutes into the show, and the band had every fan in the sold out Georgia Theatre singing as loudly as possible yet again. Butler's "hope that you smile when your singing" was undoubtedly satisfied, and the level of joy and excitement across the entire theatre was something truly special. A pair of heavy hitting instrumental tunes would come next in "Cairo" and "Robot Waltz," giving each of the guys tremendous opportunity to prove that their creative approach and improvisation with this material hasn't lost a step in their two year absence. "Robot Waltz" has always served as a prime example of this band's vast diversity, constantly transitioning between one of the more peaceful, smooth melodies into a stream of extremely powerful, uptempo verses. There was no exception Friday night, as the song was carried for well over ten minutes and provided some of the more appealing lighting effects of the first set. A seamless transition was made as "Sweet Oblivious Antidote" closed out a first set which was nothing short of stellar.
What seemed to be a very brief intermission ended before long, and what many of us were jokingly calling a "greatest hits" show picked right back up. The opening notes of "TSMM" have always been what I first think of when the name Perpetual Groove is mentioned. The sound developed by this band over the years is as unique and original as any, and I have always felt that "TSMM" embodies their true sound as much as any original tune. The level to which the crowd was singing along with Butler was remarkable and overwhelming. "Two Shores," one of the heavier, true rock-and-roll PGroove tunes, would follow and push the level of energy to another level. "Mr. Transistor" made for another powerful instrumental, one which the band's most seasoned fans have emphatically welcomed since their earliest days. "Echo" was strategically placed within "Mr. Transistor," providing a sense of anticipation before the song's completion. One of the closing song's played at the band's last 2013 show, "All My Friends," made for another familiar sing along, leaving just enough time to close the set with the highly anticipated "Teakwood Betz." Perry's opening bass line to "Teakwood Betz" has an effect that I won't even attempt to cheapen with words. The build up was steady and appropriate, and a monster rendition of Teakwood was delivered to over 1,000 of the band's most loyal fans to close the second set.
"Only Always," the final track from the band's 2006 release , Live Love Die, kicked off the encore and felt just as appropriate as the decision to open with "It Starts Where It Ends." So many of Butler's lyrics seem to strike a sense of nostalgia and apply to the general rules of life. As he repeatedly sang, "In between, all the saddest things I've seen, don't come close to what has been. All the great things yet to be, things that keep me in between," I couldn't help but feel a sense of happiness and relief for how far this group as come. "And Everything," from the 2004 album All This Everything, would round out the encore and bring the show to a close.
After a significant amount of doubt that PGroove would ever return to the stage together, we were now left with the confidence that the band so many of us grew to love at a young age could be back with us for many more years to come. While only two more dates are currently scheduled (St. Petersburg, FL - State Theatre - 7/31 & 8/1), along with an appearance at Resonance Music & Arts Festival in Oklahoma, the overall excitement and success of this weekend is encouraging for all parties involved. While Perry, McDonald, and Suttle continue touring as Ghost Owl, it would be difficult to believe that more dates won't be considered. PGroove will undoubtedly take things one step at a time, as they should, but there's always the chance that another special occasion run could surface (Halloween or New Years?). One thing's for certain: Perpetual Groove is still capable of being a major player in the national live music circuit.
FULL SETLIST - 05.29.15 - Georgia Theatre - Athens, GA
Set Two: TSM2> Two Shores, Mr. Transistor> Echo> Mr. Transistor, All My Friends, Teakwood Betz
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